Seattle, Wash., Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) -
The Catholic bishops of Washington state are asking Gov. Chris Gregoire to commute the death sentence of Darold Ray Stenson, saying there is “no moral justification” for his upcoming lethal injection.
Stenson, 55, is scheduled to be executed on December 3. He was convicted of aggravated murder for the 1993 shooting deaths of his wife and a business partner while his three young children slept in his farmhouse nearby, the Seattle Times reports.
Archbishop of Seattle Alex Brunett, Bishop of Spokane William Skylstad, and Bishop of Yakima Carlos Sevilla wrote the governor this past Friday to ask that Stenson be spared the death penalty.
Expressing their understanding that the state is responsible to punish Stenson, they said “there remains no moral justification for imposing a sentence of death.”
"Violence begets violence both in our hearts and in our actions," they wrote, according to the Seattle Times. "By continuing the tradition of responding to killing with state-sanctioned killing, we rob ourselves of moral consistency and perpetuate that which we seek to sanction."
Instead of execution by lethal injection, they ask instead that he be punished with life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.
The governor also received a 16 page letter from the Washington Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty which argued the death penalty is not fairly administered because others convicted of killing more people have not been put to death, KXLY reports.
Several vigils are planned before the scheduled execution.
If his appeals fail, Stenson would be the first inmate put to death in Washington state since 2001.
He has claimed he did not commit the murders. When he reported the deaths to authorities in 1993, he said that his business partner had killed his wife and then shot himself in another room.
Prosecutors argued that Stenson, who was reportedly in financial trouble, killed the two in order to collect $400,000 in life insurance.
Novorossiysk, Russia, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - Authorities in the southern Russian city of Novorossiysk have scheduled a “week without abortion” in an effort to combat the country’s extremely high abortion rate.
During the weeklong event that began on Monday, doctors will not perform abortions in all but “the most extreme cases,” RussiaToday.com reports. The city’s maternity welfare center will hold open houses with information seminars on family planning as psychologists and gynecologists work with pregnant women to help prepare them for motherhood.
A hotline for pregnant women will also operate during the week, putting them in contact with gynecological experts in Novorossiysk.
“Doctors will do everything they can to stop women from doing the irreparable,” a city administration representative told RussiaToday.com.
The city’s universities will also screen films demonstrating the detrimental effects of abortion.
Russia’s abortion rate is among the highest in the world, with nearly 70 percent of pregnancies ending in an abortion. The Western Europe abortion rate is about 12 per 1,000 women per year, while in Russia that figure is 54 per 1,000, according to U.N. records on abortion rates.
In 2004 there were 100,000 more abortions than births.
Further, about 10 to 15 percent of abortions in Russia have complications, leaving about 8 percent of women sterile.
Novorossiysk’s “week without abortion” was timed to coincide with the Russian Day of Motherhood, scheduled annually for the last Sunday of November. City authorities have also dedicated a day to “child making,” ensuring people a shorter work day once a year to improve the demographic situation in the country.
The Russian government declared 2008 to be the “Year of the Family” to combat demographic decline. What RussiaToday.com called the “propaganda of abortions and their advertising” has recently been banned in the Russian media.
Despite welfare payments for childbirth, improvements in the healthcare system, and public service announcements to boost the birthrate, recent reports indicate the government policies have had little effect.
Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - Cardinal Giacomo Biffi, the retired Archbishop of Bologna, has written a new book which stresses the primacy of conversion in Christian life and argues against the refashioning of Christianity to appeal to current ways of thinking.
The cardinal commented on his book, titled “Sheep and Shepherds,” in comments reproduced by Vatican analyst Sandro Magister.
Explaining his title, the cardinal said:
“Everyone in the Church is, before anything else, a member of the flock of Christ. Everyone, from the pope to the most recently baptized, bears the true nature of his greatness not so much in being entrusted with this or that role in the Christian community, as in being part of the 'little flock.' There is, therefore, substantial equality among all believers, as long as they truly believe: only by believing does one enter among Christ's sheep.”
And yet, some people seem to measure the truth of the faith by modern society’s standards. As Cardinal Biffi writes: “Sometimes, in some areas of the Catholic world, people even come to the point of thinking that divine Revelation must adapt itself to the current mentality in order to be credible, instead of the current mentality converting in the light that comes to us from on high. And yet one must reflect on the fact that it is 'conversion,' and not 'adaptation,' that is the evangelical term.”
The drive to adapt Christian faith to current thought can even obscure the divinity of Jesus, echoing the Arian heresy which denied His divinity.
“As paradoxical as this statement may seem, the Arian question is always the order of the day in ecclesial life,” Cardinal Biffi said, according to Magister. “The pretexts can be many: from the desire to feel that Christ is closer and is more one of us, to the proposal of making it easier to understand him by exalting almost exclusively his social and humanitarian aspects. In the end, the result is always that of stripping the Redeemer of man of his radical uniqueness, and classifying him as someone who can be managed and domesticated.”
In this respect, the cardinal said, the ancient Council of Nicea which condemned Arianism is “much more relevant today” than the Second Vatican Council.
One chapter of “Sheep and Shepherds” defends chastity by referencing the words of Jesus in the Gospels, the letters of St. Paul, and other parts of Scripture. The chapter was published on the internet by Magister.
Noting that the Church’s witness of chastity has been perceived by the world to be “something burdensome and repulsive” since the beginning, Biffi noted how the Christian emphasis on chastity continues to challenge the world.
In its first encounter with the Greco-Roman world, the cardinal writes in his book, “Christianity had to come to terms with a culture marked by a conception of eroticism, by a practice of sexuality, by a system of marriage that was immediately perceived as foreign to the character of the Gospel, and even as contrary to the new humanity… .”
Christian chastity is not based in “mistrust of what is material and corporal” but “is fostered and expresses itself with respect toward the body, which in the Christian perspective is held to be a sacred reality and an instrument of sanctification.”
The Christian approach to modern-day homosexuality, Cardinal Biffi said, must distinguish between the respect due to persons and the “necessary repudiation of any exalted ideology of homosexuality.” He also described St. Paul’s theological interpretation of “the rampant ideological and cultural aberration in this area,” adding that this “aberration” is “at the same time the proof and the result of the exclusion of God from collective attention and social life, and of the refusal to give him due praise.”
Excluding God from western culture “has had the consequence, almost as an inevitable punishment, of the spread of an aberrant sexual ideology, with an arrogance unknown to previous times.”
According to the cardinal, Christ touched on sexual matters “only a few times and always in a sober manner, although at the same time unmistakable and resolute.” Rejecting not only pagan habits but also some widespread Hebrew ones, the cardinal explained, “Jesus does not hesitate to include violations against chastity among the behaviors that threaten the dignity of man and his interior purity.”
The corruption of the “heart” is the source of the responsibility and the guilt of the actions committed.
Cardinal Biffi also decried the “sort of pansexualism” of society now ubiquitous in entertainment and advertising, saying Christian teaching on chastity is “a challenge that still keeps its relevance intact today. In a certain respect, it has even become more necessary and more urgent.”
“We sometimes get the impression that we have been influenced and taken in by a mysterious cabal of maniacs who are imposing their own degenerate mentality on everyone else. They are the same ones who never fail to call bigots and prudes those who are not convinced by their lofty arguments.”
The cardinal’s book chapter closed with an exhortation to an “evangelical realism” which recognizes that chastity is not a virtue which can be acquired on one’s own. Rather, the virtue must be found “in the context of a comprehensive following of Christ, everything becomes possible, easy, joyous: ‘I can do all things in him who gives me strength’ (Philippians 4:13).”
Vatican City, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict and the Roman Catholic faithful were joined in the Paul VI audience hall today by Aram I, Catholicos of Cicilia of the Armenians and a group of Armenian clergy and laity. Before he delivered his general audience address, the Pope thanked Aram I for his efforts to further ecumenical dialogue and prayed for full unity between the two Churches.
"This fraternal visit," Pope Benedict said, speaking to the Armenian delegation in English, "is a significant occasion for strengthening the bonds of unity already existing between us, as we journey towards that full communion which is both the goal set before all Christ's followers and a gift to be implored daily from the Lord."
The group of about 50 faithful from the Armenian Apostolic Church is visiting Rome until November 27, and today they will visit the tombs of Sts. Peter and Paul.
The Holy Father invoked "the grace of the Holy Spirit on your pilgrimage to the tombs of the Apostles Peter and Paul, and I invite all present to pray fervently to the Lord that your visit, and our meetings, will mark a further step along the path towards full unity."
The Pontiff was also sure to mention his gratitude to Aram I for his "constant personal involvement in the field of ecumenism, especially in the International Joint Commission for Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox Churches, and in the World Council of Churches."
As he finished speaking to the Armenians, Pope Benedict reminded them that St. Peter’s basilica has a statue of their founder, St. Gregory the Illuminator, on its façade.
"The presence of this statue evokes the sufferings he endured in bringing the Armenian people to Christianity, but it also recalls the many martyrs and confessors of the faith whose witness bore rich fruit in the history of your people. Armenian culture and spirituality are pervaded by pride in this witness of their forefathers, who suffered with fidelity and courage in communion with the Lamb slain for the salvation of the world," the Pope said.
"Together let us invoke the intercession of St. Gregory the Illuminator and above all of the Virgin Mother of God, so that they will enlighten our way and guide it towards the fullness of that unity which we all desire," he concluded.
Vatican City, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - Pope Benedict continued his reflections on St. Paul today, urging the 9,000 people present to consider Paul's teaching on faith and works in the process of justification. Emphasizing that works do not justify a person, the Pope said that works necessarily flow from love for Christ.
In his catechesis on St. Paul’s teaching on justification, the Pontiff stated that man is unable to justify himself by his works, but becomes just before God only because God restores us to right relationship by uniting us with Christ.
He continued, "Man obtains this union with Christ by means of faith." This faith, if it is true and real, becomes love and expresses itself in charity; without charity faith would be dead.
Pope Benedict then noted that there has been confusion concerning the relevance of man's actions for salvation.
According to the Pope, the interpretive key can be found in St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians, which emphasizes the gratuitousness of justification apart from man's works and highlights the relationship between faith and charity and faith and works.
The fruit of the Holy Spirit "is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control," the Holy Father quoted, pointing out that at the beginning of Paul's list of virtues is love and at the conclusion self-control.
Referencing both Galatians and Corinthians, Benedict XVI taught that true faith in Christ is what justifies men, but also that that same faith, if it is genuine, “leads him to live no longer for himself, but for Christ; it makes man a new creation and a member of Christ's Body, the Church.”
"The centrality of justification without works, the main object of Paul's preaching, presents no contradiction to faith working through love; on the contrary it requires that our own faith be expressed in a life in accordance with the Spirit," Benedict XVI added.
The supposed contradiction between faith and works that was first raised by Luther is an "unfounded conflict," he remarked.
Although some people see a conflict between what Saint Paul teaches and what Saint James teaches, the Pope explained that "For both Paul and James, faith working through love bears witness to the free gift of justification in Christ."
The Holy Father noted that men often fall into misunderstandings that characterized the community of Corinth: "Those Christians thought that having been gratuitously justified in Christ by faith, 'all things are lawful for them."
"What we must do," he went on, "is gain a renewed awareness that, because we have been justified in Christ, we are no longer our own but have become temples of the Spirit and hence are called to glorify God in our bodies. We would undervalue the priceless value of justification, bought at a high price by the blood of Christ, if we did not glorify it with our body, with all our lives." For this reason, St. Paul exhorts the Roman "to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship," he said.
The ethics that Paul proposes to believers retain their importance today because "they are rooted in the individual and community relationship with Christ." The essential point is that Christian ethics do not arise from a system of commandments," Benedict XVI indicated, "they are a consequence of our friendship with Christ.
The Pope concluded, "Nothing and no one can ever separate us from God's love. This certainty gives us the strength to live the faith that works in love."
Madrid, Spain, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - During the “Catholics and Public Life” congress in Spain this week, former senator Mercedes Aroz, who a year ago announced her conversion to the Catholic faith and departure from the Socialist Party of Catalonia, called for the abolition of abortion in Spain to bring about true progress in the advancement of human rights.
Aroz, who was elected handily to the Senate in 2004, underscored that “Spanish society today is a secularized society similar to the rest of Western Europe in which God is no longer the universal point of reference.” This change “has led to a crisis of moral values” and the loss of a moral compass for individuals, and “unease in the cultural in general,” she explained.
However, she acknowledged that “Catholicism continues to be relatively in the majority and a Catholic-based culture continues to subsist. Therefore favorable conditions exist for Christianity to flourish again.”
“We need to put forth the abolition of abortion for what it is: a progressive objective, the advancement of civilization, as the legal recognition of human rights, and their expansion is the fruit of progress of the human being in the understanding of his reality and his dignity as a person,” she said.
Havana, Cuba, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - With the beatification of Br. Jose Olallo Vales just days away, the bishops of Cuba issued a message this week calling on Cubans to learn the lesson of charity and love of God from the future blessed.
“We hope that the example of holiness of Father Olallo awakens in all Cubans the desire to turn towards God and remain in Him, and strengthens in each one the decision to go with Mary to encounter Jesus Christ, since He is the face of true love experienced by Father Olallo,” the bishops said. Most Cubans refer to Olallo as a priest even though he was a consecrated religious brother.
According to the Fides news agency, the bishops underscored in their message how the virtue of charity “was lived out by him with a courageous and creative, generous spirit towards those who found themselves in desperate situations, never worrying about his life, his health, the wear on his body, or fatigue.”
They recalled that Br. Olallo turned the hospital in which he worked into “a great family, in spite of the many differences among the patients,” and that he “prayed in the morning, afternoon, and evening, walking down the ‘Calle de los Pobres,’ a street that is now named after him, helping the poor materially and spiritually. He helped the imprisoned, gave food to the hungry, and evangelized through his famous evening talks in which he educated many in the faith, saving marriages and reconciling enemies. In this manner, he became a father and mother to a countless number of people.”
CNA STAFF, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - Although Christians have been present in the Holy Land for thousands of years, their presence is dwindling quickly due to economic and other factors. In order to help those Christians who still remain in the land of Jesus, CNA and the Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land are launching a joint effort to ensure that the Christian presence will continue in the years to come.
The Franciscan Foundation for the Holy Land is a group that was created in 1998 to help stem the tide of Christians leaving the Holy Land by providing much needed programs in the fields of education, employment, and housing.
Funding these initiatives remains an ongoing project, and so the Franciscan created the "Memorial Hall" at the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem to help raise the much needed funding.
Through this project, Christians from around the world will not only be able to leave a lasting legacy at the Church of the Nativity but more importantly, will be giving those Christians an opportunity of renewed hope and desire to stay in the Holy Land.
Realizing the importance of helping the Mother Church of Christianity, CNA has agreed to help by spreading the word about the Memorial Hall Project.
Full details about the Memorial Hall Project can be found at: www.catholicnewsagency.com/holyland.
Rome, Italy, Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - In response to a court ruling this week that crucifixes must be removed from a local school in his city, Archbishop Braulio Rodriguez of Valladolid, Spain said, “In a culture that is Christian, the crucifix does not hurt anyone,” as it is a sign of “love and peace.”
The archbishop told Vatican Radio that the ruling endangers religious freedom and is a sign of the increasingly more radical secularism. “Any religious symbol could be suppressed and removed from any place,” he said, pointing to the example of the city of Brujas in Belgium, “where there are small statues and pictures of Mary and Christ on street corners and intersections, and non-religious people, non-Christians, don’t complain about it.”
Archbishop Rodriguez said he feared a time would come when Christians would have to ask permission to say that they believe in God and in Jesus Christ. “I want to continue displaying religious symbols, because to me that is part of the religious freedom that we all desire,” he said.
The mayor of Valladolid said this week he would not remove a crucifix from city hall despite the court ruling.
Washington D.C., Nov 26, 2008 (CNA) - President-elect Obama has selected as Director of the Domestic Policy Council Melody C. Barnes, a New York lawyer with an “unyielding” record of abortion rights advocacy.
According to the White House web site, the Domestic Policy Council oversees major domestic policy areas such as education, health, housing, welfare, justice, federalism, transportation, environment, labor and veteran's affairs.
It also oversees the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
Barnes is a former Executive Vice President for Policy at the Center for American Progress, where she led the left-wing think tank’s Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative.
She has also served as a board member of EMILY’s List, a group formed more than two decades ago to support pro-abortion rights women candidates. Over the years the group has raised millions for Democratic women candidates who support unrestricted access to taxpayer-funded abortion on demand.
EMILY’s List has even cut funding from pro-abortion rights politicians who voted to ban partial-birth abortion.
Barnes has also lobbied on behalf of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
Carlos Polo, director for Latin America at the Population Research Institute, has linked the Center for Reproductive Rights to a strategy to force permissive abortion laws upon Latin America.
Members of CRR have proposed using international litigation to “develop new standards for the protection of reproductive rights” and to force local authorities to ignore their country’s laws and introduce changes that would allow abortion and “reproductive health” services for teenagers.
Barnes was a former aide to Sen. Ted Kennedy and was his chief counsel at the Senate Judiciary Committee from December 1995 to March 2003. According to the New York Times, Barnes is associated with a “bitter dispute” over confirmation of a federal appeals court judge in 2002. At the time, charges were leveled against Barnes and another aide to Ted Kennedy that they tried to influence the outcome of a high-profile affirmative action case by delaying the confirmation of a judge who might have ruled against affirmative action.
Bill Donohue, president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, in a Monday statement voiced criticism of Barnes’ selection as head of the Domestic Policy Council.
Claiming her “forte” is working with the “religious left,” Donohue reported that Barnes has been described by the left-wing journal The Nation as a “dyed-in-the-wool progressive.”
“She wants to overturn all restrictions on embryonic stem cell research, and her passion for abortion rights is so unyielding that she has served on the board of EMILY’s List and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund,” he charged.
Donohue also alluded to a controversy over pro-life Catholic and evangelical jurists allegedly being denied approval to serve as federal judges. Without mentioning specifics, he said Barnes had denied bigotry was an issue in the delay.